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Reflecting Images: Visiting My Grandmother’s Village in Palu

For the third time in less than a year, I traveled to the land of my ancestors. Each time I return, people ask how things went and I struggle to find the appropriate word to describe these pilgrimages. I have settled on the word “productive.” These are not vacations, nor are they taken with an expectation of pleasure.

George Aghjayan (L) with his daughter Sarah and cousin Steve Mesrobian in Uzunova. (Photo by Nanore Barsoumian)

These explorations offer many extraordinary moments. Oftentimes it is difficult to express the emotions of such moments, but I would like to write about one.

My grandmother, Margaret Der Manouelian, was born in the village of Uzunova mezre in the district of Palu. Prior to the genocide, it was a small village with only around 100 Armenians in 10-15 households and the Surp Sarkis Church. Approximately twice as many Armenians lived in the nearby village of Uzunova along the Aradzani (Murad or eastern Euphrates) River.

In 1990, with my wife expecting our first child, I recorded my grandmother’s story of surviving the genocide and her six years as a slave in Uzunova. In 1996, I traveled to Palu hoping to visit Uzunova, but was unfortunately unable to get there.

So, it was with much anticipation that I expected to finally visit the village that was the origin of so much of my family history, even more so because traveling with me on this journey were my daughter Sarah and cousin Steve Mesrobian.

As we approached the village, the incredible beauty of the location struck me. The village sits along the Keban reservoir with magnificent mountains in the background. In some ways, unknowingly, I have recreated the landscape through my own home in Massachusetts.

The old village of Uzunova is now under water. The current village of Uzunova contains only 10-15 houses and borders the old village of Uzunova mezre. The remoteness of Uzunova has trapped it in time. Life continues to center on fishing, farming, and animal husbandry.

Upon entering the village, I was naturally drawn to the water while my daughter was drawn to an elderly woman walking to the fields for work. The woman spoke generally about the village and I moved on–drawn further along the water. Was this the place where my grandmother found her father beheaded with other men of the village? So many thoughts… It was overwhelming.

Boys fishing in Uzunova (Photo by Nanore Barsoumian)

After watching some young boys fishing and skipping stones, we walked back to the road and happened on a beautiful stork. As we were taking pictures of the stork and the many smaller birds also nesting there, a man came out on his roof and invited us to take pictures from there.

After some initial pleasantries, the man invited us in for tea while he was having his breakfast. As we sat around the table sipping tea, we talked. He spoke of the history of the villages. I spoke of my grandmother being from the village and the history of the Armenians of the villages. He spoke of both of his grandmothers being Armenian. And I understood.

This man and I are two sides of the same coin. My grandmother escaped, his grandmothers did not. Many were killed outright. I am descended from one, he is descended from another. And across the countryside there are hundreds of thousands that are also descended.

At this point, I indicated that the geographic distance between us had separated the history I knew of the village and the history of the village he knew, and it was good that we could come together to share stories of the village.

At this point he became very animated in talking to his wife. He explained to her that we had come from half way around the world to see Uzunova. That they could not begin to understand our attachment to the village, until they understood the magnitude of the crime they committed against us.

We then walked around the village. I found the gully my grandmother and her family hid in when the killings began. We walked around the remnants of the vineyard where my great-grandfather hid unbeknownst to my grandmother. We saw the Armenian cemetery…a bone exposed here…fragments of rocks there. We received shade of the trees that marked the spot where Surp Sarkis Church once stood.

As we walked away, my thoughts drifted to my daughter. My family’s history was just extended two generations. One day, her children, grandchildren, nieces, and nephews will come to her and ask … she has been there and will have the answers. A crime silenced and forgotten is a crime that never occurred.

14 Comments on Reflecting Images: Visiting My Grandmother’s Village in Palu

  1. George, Thank you for your beautiful story, which moved me to tears. I hope to follow in your footsteps one day, too. Please consider my disagreement with your last sentence, “A crime silenced and forgotten is a crime that never occurred.” The Turkish government hopes this statement is true, but the fact is that it is incorrect. If a murderer is not brought to justice, there is still a dead victim produced by the crime. Forgetting the murder and the victim is a moral crime, although it is not written in any statute. When societies remain silent in the face of genocide denial, we are accomplices in a crime against humanity.

  2. “A crime silenced and forgotten is a crime that never occurred.”
    Thank you, George, for this timely reminder that the most meaningful way to ensure that the genocide is never forgotten, and our demands for justice are never silenced, is to make sure our children know our history. This is the only way the torch will be carried forward to succeeding generations. Just as we now speak for our fathers, our children will speak for us and transfer the torch to theirs. Our demands for justice will never be silenced. I can think of no more effective way to teach our history to the next generation than to take our children to our villages just as you did. You are right when you say this is not a pleasure trip. This is indeed a pilgrimage. We go so that our voices are heard in the same mountains and valleys that still hold those of our fathers. There is a profound need to walk in the same fields, under the same skies, to feel the same winds that caressed our mothers. And yes, George, to see the killing fields. How symbolic to have found a groong there. Thanks for sharing your journey with us.

  3. The following poem, written by a noted Canadian author, Margaret Atwood, was sent to me just before my daughter and I also went on pilgrimage.

    The Moment

    The moment when, after many years
    of hard work and a long voyage
    you stand in the centre of your room,
    house, half-acre, square mile, island, country,
    knowing at last how you got there,
    and say, I own this,

    is the same moment when the trees unloose
    their soft arms from around you,
    the birds take back their language,
    the cliffs fissure and collapse,
    the air moves back from you like a wave
    and you can’t breathe.

    No, they whisper. You own nothing.
    You were a visitor, time after time
    climbing the hill, planting the flag, proclaiming.
    We never belonged to you.
    You never found us.
    It was always the other way round.

    Margaret Atwood

  4. I love this poem Perouz. Thanks for sharing it.

  5. avatar Sylva-MD-Poetry // June 14, 2012 at 9:11 am // Reply

    Dear George

    I felt every step you felt …
    to reach so far…
    So far and there
    where your DNA…s…
    is still hidden somewhere…
    under the rocks under Katchkars
    I can feel your silent tears
    You made us weep together with you
    to see your green land
    birds are still singing there
    Where your grandparents loved and prayed
    Storks are there since ancient days
    laying their eggs
    caring babies
    from place to place…
    they must carry some Armenian genes…
    Under their wings…
    I Can feel…They knew you…
    who are you
    but they could not utter…sing …cry… speak…
    afraid they will get shot
    by new scavengers…carrying killing genes…!!!

    Sylva-MD-Poetry
    Written instantly

  6. A few days ago I was speaking with Paul Bedrosian the son of a childhood friend, the late Michael Bedrosian and nephew of RI Family Court Chief Justice Haiganoush Bedrosian. Paul earned his BA in anthropology at the University of Vermont and we talked about just the kind of challenge upon which you and Stepan Mesrobian embarked. And now your lovely daughter has become ambassador or point person for our new generation. How well stated in the last paragraph which captures the wishes of all survivors, their children, grandchildren and moreover those martyred ancestors whose presence you must have felt where you stood. All of this, all you have done, strikes so deep into the contrived armour of Genocide denial.

    I

  7. avatar Iris Papazian // June 14, 2012 at 1:06 pm // Reply

    Beautifully written, George. It brought back all the memories of the trip my son Michael and I made to Historic Armenia in 1998. It was both emotional and exhilarating, feelings that ordinary words just cannot truly capture. Regards to your family.

  8. avatar Joyce Yeremian // June 14, 2012 at 4:11 pm // Reply

    Dear George,
    Thank you for sharing your story and trip. I remember your grandmother well and she was a wonderful woman. Your story reminds us all of our parents and grandparents who went through the same terrible horrors of the Genocide. My father was from Govdoon, Sepastia and my grandfather Hagopos Ayvazian from my mothers side was the musicologist at Armash Vank and taught many of the priests who were at that church and killed. He was taken away and killed also. Great article. God Bless you and your family.
    Joyce

  9. avatar Der Khatchadour // June 16, 2012 at 2:42 pm // Reply

    I am wondering if one day i will have courage and opportunity to go to our ancestral lands and villages where our grandparents were born, I admire your exemplary patriotic spirit. I pray God to spread your thoughts and feelings in the minds of Armenians all over the world.
    I wish I was able to understand the meaning of your article’s last statement “A crime silenced and forgotten is a crime that never occurred.”
    I hope to have your explanation. May be there is nothing to explain. if we are speaking about a crime it means that it has occurred and has not been silenced by all means and hopefully it will not be forgotten.
    It is providential that the man who offered you a cup of tea had Armenian grandparents of both sides. What a powerful coincidence!
    God bless you and our new generation. Sarah is the young girl who had drawn our Genocide commemoration flyer two years ago in Worcester placing ‘ two Vartabeds helmets on the top of little and big Ararats peaks, with tears joining them together, and us survivors, to our sacred exiled mountain.

  10. avatar Mary Derderian // November 14, 2012 at 6:53 am // Reply

    Hello George,
    I was so moved by your article about Palu.
    My father was born in Palu and was the only survivor from his family after the Genocide. I have visited Palu on a trip to Historic Armenia. Can’t explain why I needed to drink from the fountain, pick the mulberries from the trees he always talked about, and walk the soil he walked on. So impressed that you have evoked that emotion in your daughter. I would like to revisit Palu again.
    Mary Derderian

  11. Mary Derderian;

    Was your father Sarkis Derderian?
    Did he have a son Aved?

    • avatar Mary Derderian // February 12, 2013 at 4:35 pm //

      Hello Perouz,
      My father’s name was Manoog Derderian. He did not have a son. Just one daughter.

  12. avatar Eloise (Kopoian) Neely // November 24, 2012 at 4:33 pm // Reply

    My mother was born in Uzunova, and was a survivor. She ended up in the orhanage of the Near East Relief Society. She has written her story, self-published and which I have now reprinted. She was a wonderful woman, told her story to many, but without bitterness from her suffering. She was able to forgive, because of her relationship to Christ who had restored her broken life.

    It is interesting to find someone with the same ancestoral heritage. Thank you for sharing your pilgrimage story.

  13. avatar gaytzag palandjian // November 24, 2012 at 7:08 pm // Reply

    I don´t concurr with name historic Armenia.Exact denomination of it as of 1895/6(Zyetoon, comes to mind) is Western Armenia, where and when our fight for independencde began, to shake the Ottoman Turkish yolk…
    Historic Armenia is the Times of the Bagratuni, Rshtunis, Ardzrounis,Tigran the Great , Ardavazd,Gagik Ardzrouni(builder of Akhtamar) and the lands that extended from the Caspian to the Meditarranean.
    I have many books both in Armenian and in foreign languages-English,French-wherein even non Armenian historians have clearly defined where Historic Armenia was and is.
    Nowadays by referring to those lands as historic belittles our CASE/Cause.
    For we did stand up and shook away the chains the conquering Turk,-tatar moguls had put on us.
    W/ref. to Pilgrimages to Western Armenian lands to recall where my grandfather and g.mother lived,to me at least would not cause me to come to tears but rage!!! why should they have been evicted and put on DEATH MARCH!!!!
    And not just Western Armenia but on mother´s side the G.D.Azeris slaughtered them in Nakhijevan ,taking over their ages old properties and riches. Got o pilgrimage? That I do the pressent RA/Artsakh since 31 yrs…and follow up on latest achjievements of Armeniasn worldwide.

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